Race Report – Clare Half Marathon

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Before I go any further, this is a significant milestone for me – my 50th blog post! Who would have guessed when I first published my race report from the Barossa Marathon last year, that I would still be going 50 posts later? What started as a way to disseminate my marathon report to the wider community after having received a number of positive comments from its initial airing via Facebook, has become somewhat of a hobby for me – at times it has been challenging to find a topic to write about, and other times one race has provided 3 weeks worth of material! Thanks to you for reading it and keeping me inspired to keep writing it!

A few weeks ago I found my pace band from last year’s Clare Half, lovingly constructed in an Auburn motel room while inhaling a vego pizza, sipping on an ice cold cider and watching a forgettable football game on the comically small TV. (I say forgettable because I now can’t recall even who was playing.)

For the uninitiated, the pace band was a piece of paper with the numbers 1-21 written down the side, and next to each number, the overall time I would need to be at (or under) to achieve my PB goal. I cut it into a narrow strip, laminated it and made it into a bracelet. Fat lot of good it did me that day.

Clare being an out and back, uphill on the way out and theoretically downhill on the way back, it was the ideal course to try to run a negative split (faster in the second half). Indeed, that strategy had worked perfectly for me in my first Clare.

Unfortunately, in my quest for a PB, I neglected to consider the fact that this course was significantly more difficult than the Greenbelt course on which I had run my best HM to that point. Greenbelt is undulating but essentially downhill and is considered a relatively fast course.

So, I had set myself 5 minute kms for the first 11, with the idea being to increase the pace after that. Unfortunately after running 11km uphill at 5 minute pace, I had nothing left, no chance of increasing the pace and I ended up walk/running the last 10km (this remains the only road race I’ve ever done where I’ve had to walk part of it – marathons included), cursing all the way and actually considering quitting!

Needless to say, the PB eluded me that day. I finished in what most would call a respectable time and made my way back home to a gathering at regular running buddy David’s place, as he and amigos Sally and Fiona were about to head off to Vancouver for the marathon.

It was great catching up with running friends outside of running events (the ‘running’ joke was, “I didn’t recognise you with clothes on!”) and a perfect way to distract myself from what I perceived as a disaster.

That day I met Australian distance running royalty in Jess Trengove, a great friend of David’s. David introduced me to her and told her I had had a ‘shit run’ that morning. I can’t remember exactly what her words of wisdom were but I think the essence of it was, everyone has a shit run at some stage.

Interestingly enough it seemed to do the trick. I went on to 2 marathon PBs in the ensuing 3 months and eventually cracked the HM PB later that year. You could say it was something of a turning point.

Skip forward 12 months and it was Clare time again. This time I had got myself organised a bit earlier than last year but even 2 months out, it seemed all of Clare was already booked out! (I later found out there were 3 weddings in town that weekend – that’ll do it!) With probable chronic hamstring or glute med tendinosis in my left hip, driving the 2+ hours to Clare on race day was out of the question – long periods of sitting are not my friend and do not make for a good race! Hence I needed to find accommodation or I wouldn’t do the race. Fortunately I managed to find an AirBNB within walking distance of the start – perfect!

An engagement party the night before meant a late arrival into Clare but it was still preferable to a race day drive.

Given that I was running better than at the corresponding time last year, I thought, why not give the old pace band another crack? I wasn’t expecting a PB (given that the new mark I set last year was 5 minutes faster than the PB I had hoped, and failed, to break at last year’s Clare) but it would be nice to do another sub 1:40. Or beat my previous PB of 1:42:43. Or at least beat my previous Clare PB of around 1:46.

It was a good, solid pre-race week. I was away for Easter the previous weekend, and had an essentially run-free weekend (excluding parkrun of course). Tuesday morning’s run effectively dispersed the cobwebs accumulated during Monday’s day of driving, and on Thursday I managed to push out a 12k at just under 5 min/km.

Thursday night I (probably not very cleverly, in hindsight) went for a short reccy run up a fairly steep hill, which will make for good Ultra-Trail 100 training. “Possibly not the best preparation a few days before a race” – said my quads on Friday. I skipped Friday’s hill run, opting for a relatively easy walk instead, and decided to change my Saturday plans to include a leisurely parkrun (I had planned to skip parkrun altogether, knowing my history of being unable to ‘take it easy’, however decided that the stiffness in my legs on Friday would be best resolved by a gentle 5k ‘jogette’.)

I tried rolling on Friday night, with my new BFF ‘The Stick’ (like a more convenient but brutal version of a foam roller) but my quads were too tender for me to roll properly! Yep I definitely need more hills training, but, again, maybe not mere days from a big race!

Saturday’s parkrun was a good leg loosener, pacing my mum to yet another PB, with the quads still complaining bitterly especially, interestingly enough, on the downhill section! My Saturday was busy and involved a lot of driving, firstly down to McLaren Vale and back for lunch (an hour each way) and then that night up to Clare which was a touch under 2 hours. And wow, were my legs stiff when I got out of the car on each of those occasions!

I was in a bit of a rush to get everything done before heading out to Clare (via an engagement party) so didn’t spend much time planning my race day outfit. I ended up going with the same as Bay-City – I seem to favour the same style skirt for all my long races, and I went with the SARRC top as I plan to wear that for the Gold Coast Marathon so it made sense to test it in a half. (It is also the top I did my HM PB in last year so I thought that might be a good omen!)

I got into Clare at about 9.45pm, having eaten my traditional pre-race pizza on the way there (homemade this time!) and tried a bit more rolling before I hit the hay (the quads were still sore, not as bad as the day before but still difficult to roll!) I was very thankful for the extra hour’s sleep I was to get due to the end of Daylight Savings (thanks SARRC for that genius bit of scheduling!). I was staying with a lady called Helen who has accommodated people involved with the half marathon in previous years – not surprising given her perfect location in relation to the race start! She herself had also been involved in the organising of the event in the past.

Race day morning dawned cool and crisp. I was a tad unprepared, having packed purely for the race itself, not having considered the possibility of needing layers for the chilly Clare morning! Note to self for next time – bring a tracksuit!

Helen and I walked over to the race start, getting there super early at around 6.45 for the 8am start – I wanted to allow time to collect my race bib, but that took mere seconds! The only semi ‘warm’ gear I had was my arm socks which I recalled not needing at previous Clare events but which were definitely required this time!

Getting there so early gave me the opportunity to catch up with a whole lot of people and suss out who would be good to run with. In the end Beck, who had bravely driven up on race day (and as a result was MUCH better equipped for the cold start than I was), said she was hoping for a sub 1:45, and I thought that sounded pretty good, so we started together. Jim, the 1:45 pacer started well behind us and we hoped it would stay that way!

The gun went off and we were away. In the end, I didn’t go in with a specific pacing strategy, but Beck’s plan to sit on just over 5 min kms for the first half sounded pretty good. I’d done 5 min kms for the first half of the race last year, and came undone in the second half.

The first km was a little fast (as always – no matter how much you tell yourself you won’t, it’s really hard not to get carried away at the start!) – let’s just call it a warmup! From km no. 2 onwards we started to sit on 5:05 pace and were able to sustain that pretty well. Jim passed us pretty early on and quickly moved away from us. It was a little off-putting but we knew what we were doing and were confident we could get him before the end!

At around 9km I decided to make a move and my next 2 km were back down in the high 4’s. Just before the turnaround point I saw Jim and his 3:45 posse coming back the other way. I made note of the time and when I passed the same point it was around 70 seconds later. 70 seconds? Pfft! Piece of cake!

For the first 11km my average pace was 5:02 per km. Last year I did the corresponding section at 4:59 pace.

I was on my own for a little while and took the opportunity to settle into a rhythm. My DOMS-afflicted quads didn’t give me any trouble – turns out I don’t really need them for a flattish run! I distributed the requisite high-fives to a number of the kids lining the sides of the route, and eventually caught up to Peter, a regular at running events (and always just that little bit ahead of me) and also a keen parkrunner. We had a good conversation about the Pichi Richi Marathon (an event I am keen to do one day) and also the New York Half Marathon, where he related the story of the two top women who ran together for the whole race before one of them stuck her arm out to hold the other back right at the finish line! The distraction was welcome during the difficult 3rd quarter of the race!

I finally passed Pacer Jim at 15km. It was a little demoralising to have taken that long to get past, but he was running even splits and I was aiming for a negative split. So theoretically, once I passed him, he should not get past me again!

There was a little glitch with the signage too which caused me some initial confusion. I was sure we were at 17km but the sign said 18km. That could have been an issue if we’d really thought we were at 18, but Peter and I compared Garmin distances and decided that yes, we were definitely at 17km. Still, less than a parkrun to go!

From the start, the kilometre markers were showing how far we had to go, not how far we had come. That’s awesome in the final kilometres but seeing a sign that says ’20km to go’ in a 21.1km race – not so much! Things were back on track at 18ish km – the sign said 3km to go.

My pace for the last 10km was 4:38 per km. Last year was 5:09 – not disgraceful by any means but definitely a fail as a negative split! I was super happy with my pacing this time especially considering I didn’t go in with a real pacing strategy or even a goal time.

In the last km I tried to pick up the pace – I managed a 4:28. My goal was to finish strong but with nothing left in the tank. Towards the finish line I was behind Peter and I didn’t especially want to pass him but I wanted to let him know I was there, so he could either pick up the pace (which he did) or, if he didn’t, I was going to pass him (and no guy likes to be ‘chicked’!) In the end he finished probably about a second ahead of me (no need for him to stick an arm out to hold me off!), and I managed to sprint past quite a few others in the last few hundred metres.

My time was 1:42:27. That was my second best ever HM time, a good 4 minutes faster than my best Clare time, and interestingly faster than the PB I had been aiming for this time last year! A slightly slower first half resulted in my taking almost 5 minutes off last year’s time. That is a huge advertisement for the importance of good pacing!

I ran through the finish line, around the corner to collapse behind the timing tent for a moment. Peter came over for a chat and he had his medal. I’d forgotten to get a medal! Me, Ms AllAboutTheBling, forgot to get a medal! Peter kindly gave me his and went and got himself another one!

I quickly went to catch up with Beck, who had finished not long after me, and importantly also ahead of Jim, and was happy with her result too. I beat a hasty retreat back to Helen’s place for a shower and change of clothes, making it back in time for the presentation. It was well worth it too because I won a bottle of wine in the lucky prize draw!

I’d say redemption is well and truly mine after last year’s ‘disastrous’ outing. It was a fantastic day, a great first half for the year, and in perfect conditions! Thanks as always to the wonderful people of SARRC, the fantastic volunteers and the community of Clare for once again putting on a wonderful event. I will definitely be back!

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